Endearingly called “The Puppy Lady” by friends and neighbors, Kristin S. grew up on a working farm surrounded by animals, and now has a special place in her heart for puppies in her role as a foster volunteer at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS).
Growing Up With Animals
Kristin grew up on a working farm with many different animals. “We had horses, goats, and cows,” Kristin says. “There was a dairy farm next door, and the cows would always knock the fence over to come and visit.
“We had four to six German Shepherds on the property at any given time. They ran the line at night to help protect the other animals, but they were also really friendly and loved on us a lot. I usually snuck one into my room at night. Mom and Dad always caught me, but I didn’t stop.
“I had an ornery Pygmy Goat named Zack who would follow me everywhere, stray into the neighbor’s property, and eat everything.
“We always had a barn full of cats and kittens in the hay loft. I guess the only thing we didn’t have were mice!”
Kristin started doing rescue work about fourteen years ago. She got a call from a friend in the middle of the night, saying someone had left a crate on her doorstep.
“I got there to help, and we approached the crate together. In the dark, we saw two little eyeballs peering back at us, and just hoped it wasn’t a raccoon or something. We opened it up to find a beautiful Bichon Frise dog, absolutely covered in filth, and she had four tiny puppies. I told my friend that I grew up on a farm, and was comfortable taking it from there. I named the mom Lulu.
“I have literally had people call to drop off a dog. No questions asked, I will take her in. People hear that I will take puppies in if they need a new home. We help facilitate that and help them find their forever home to make sure they’re taken care of and loved.
“After that, I had people reach out to me and ask for help, and I got involved in other cases independently. I became somewhat well-known among friends as “The Puppy Lady” and had several rescues reach out for support. They heard I had experience caring for pregnant dogs, and caring for puppies through whelping. I’m always happy to facilitate care for these animals, and help them find their forever home to make sure they’re taken care of and loved.”
Fostering for MCAS
Kristin started fostering animals for MCAS about five years ago when a coworker referred her to the shelter, saying that her services were greatly-needed.
“I reached out to Jen, the Foster Coordinator, told her what I do, and she was grateful to have my help. I started fostering right away. Momma dogs and puppies were my go-to, but I’ve also fostered dogs with health or behavioral issues.
“Fostering is really rewarding, but also challenging. I’ve had times of worry that some wouldn’t make it just based on how they came in, if the mom was skinny, and I didn’t know if the puppies would make it. Over the years, I have lost a couple, which was really devastating. The hardest part is when you lose one.”
“I remember when I was dropping a foster off who was going to be adopted. While I was at the shelter, a staff member looked distraught, holding something in a towel. I peeked in and saw a tiny Chihuahua, underweight, covered in mange from nose to tail. The staff member didn’t think they were going to make it. But I said ‘why don’t you let me take this dog home, and if they do pass in hospice care, they’ll pass loved.’ I was cleared to take her home. She weighed less than a pound, and had a gummy-eyed look to her. She also had head trauma that she was recovering from. She was only around six to eight months old.
“To make a long story short, I ended up adopting that Chihuahua, and we named her Little Bit. She’s now two and a half pounds, and feisty. She still has health issues requiring medication, and a special diet. But I bring her in every once in a while so that staff can see how she’s doing.
“I love watching puppies grow, and go through each phase. It’s so fun to see the difference between breeds. With pit bulls, within a week their eyes are open, and they’re on the move. Smaller breeds take a little longer.
“I keep the puppies in a pen, but at night we have a big room that we open up, and just set them loose. Puppy Mayhem time is what I call it. We just watch them run circles, play with toys, and chase each other. Sometimes we invite our friends over to watch. Our neighbors and friends are really supportive, and they’ll bring food, puppy pads, toys, and other supplies over with them.”
Advice for Interested Foster Volunteers
When asked about advice Kristin has for interested foster volunteers, she emphasized doing lots of research, giving new foster animals time to settle, and building a relationship with them at their own pace.
“The first thing I do is put the puppies in the room,” Kristin says. “I have a room that’s separate and quiet from the rest of the house, just to give them some time to decompress. It’s a really quiet place. Then after a while, I come in, sit on the floor, and wait to see if they’ll come to me, or if they still need the quiet time by themselves. Some of them are ready to meet me really quick, and others need that space. You just have to see what the pup needs, and go from there.
“Medical cases can be challenging too. They may need treatment or feeding every few hours. My advice is to set a schedule and get some timers set. You take it in stride.
“It’s also a good idea to prepare any children in your life to be around animals. Teach proper care, and the safe way to interact with animals. The earlier you can start, the better.
“Support from family and friends is so important when fostering. I really appreciate my family and support system. The neighbor kids call me the puppy lady. They ask if I need supplies, or if they can bring toys over. My neighbor finds all sorts of safe chewy toys. They come over for Puppy Mayhem time. People bring puppy pads or what kind of food the shelter is feeding. It’s great to have such a good network. As people hear about the stories and needs, they want to help. Lots of my friends have been able to come in and adopt. They always step up to help.”
Thank you, Kristin, for your service to the pets and people of Multnomah County as a foster volunteer.